An invitation to be vaccinated…

I have occasional health anxiety, I know what caused it, how it gets triggered and how to manage it. The pandemic didn’t help and when I was invited for my Covid vaccination I had very mixed feelings. Of course, I was going to have it, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

It was almost impossible to avoid the international debate and concern about the Astra Zenica Oxford vaccination and this worried me, perhaps I’d be offered a different type of vaccination and the side effects would be negligible…

On the dreaded Tuesday, I went along to the vaccination centre. We live in the country and the local exhibition space most often used for agricultural shows had been transformed. There were over 200 people in the queue when I got there and we waited outside for a while next to a shed that said ‘Sheep Shearing’ (We moved out of London 7 years ago, I’m a townie at heart, these things still amuse me). As I stood in the immaculately organised, quiet queue I reflected on the conversations with 3 different friends who had rung to describe to me a variation on the theme of ‘actually I’ve been quite ill, but don’t let that put you off’.

Having the vaccination really felt counterintuitive. (I know, I know, I understand the science but the feeling remains) When my anxiety started to rise and I began sentences with ‘What if…” my husband would always respond with “Sweetheart, it’s going to be absolutely fine”

Holistic preparation, safety behaviours or adaptive coping strategies?…

I’d been ‘preparing’ for the last week, with various practices and habits, which, depending on your view might be classed as either ‘holistic preparation’, ‘safety behaviours’ or ‘adaptive coping strategies’ [1]

Daily, nutrient-packed Smoothies, Yoga, to open up my body, my Gratitude practice (grateful that there is a vaccine, grateful that we have it here and that it’s free)

Positive visualisation (I also made up an ‘I am healthy’ song which I’d sing to myself)

All of this along with a growing sense of Social Responsibility  (this really isn’t just about me…) It’s the same feeling that I had when I did jury service, it’s a civic responsibility….

Plus, on a more selfish note, the talk of a vaccination travel passport made for a very compelling argument. I knew that I should do it, it just wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Everyone’s just doing the best they can…

Meanwhile, back in the queue, I had started my breathing techniques, with a bit of yoga thrown in, focusing on slowing my breath, in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4, breathing in ‘calm’ breathing out ‘peace’ and whilst my coping strategies possibly weren’t that visible, other peoples were. Employing distraction [2] by using a mobile phone was, unsurprisingly a favourite, and there was a man in the queue next to mine who was actually pacing but to adhere to the social distancing measures he was pacing sideways, 3 steps, turn and back. 3 steps, turn and back. Everyone managing the best they could. I don’t want to ‘transfer’ [3] onto everyone who was there that day, it is of course perfectly possible that for some people getting the vaccine was simply an activity that they’d squeezed into their busy day, but for others it wasn’t. It felt to me like a very serious business.

‘I’m not on my own in this’ (Common humanity) and there is some humour in it.

I got to the front of one stage of the queue where a volunteer was quietly managing the allocation of people to the next line. We started a conversation. I asked her how it was volunteering here. “Great she said, I love getting out of the house every day, it’s nice helping people, you’d be surprised how many people get emotional” (Oh THANK GOD!…I’m not on my own it’s not just me that’s feeling slightly overwhelmed by this process) [4]

Did the lovely volunteer see something in me that she recognized or was she simply chatting about her day? Could she have recognized that behind the face-covering and what I hope are vaguely ‘on-trend’ frames albeit now holding a varifocal lens that I too was emotional?

Did she spot it in the body that I was consciously trying to relax?

Another queue and possibly 10 minutes later I finally reached the desk where I was informed that the vaccination being used was the AZ Oxford one and whilst I was registering that and my media biased view on it I was asked quite a few questions, one of which was “Could you possibly be pregnant?” I’m 57, my ovaries now resemble shriveled walnuts, I’ve seen them on a scan, I started to laugh, but it’s difficult to portray lightheartedness through, nerves, a face covering and a perspex screen so I just said ‘”no” for the easiest. [5]

Dr Kate and the 6 wise words…

Having answered all of the questions to what must have been a satisfactory degree, I was allowed forward to see the woman wielding the needle, and what a lovely woman she was. Dr Kate. At a superficial level I liked her immediately because, quite simply, she looked like me. [6] Middle aged with grey curly hair. Except she was a doctor, very clearly volunteering well below her pay grade to give vaccinations. I wondered about her motivation to do this work and what that did to her sense of ‘meaning and purpose’ the sense of psychological purpose and fulfilment [7] She was kind, empathetic and gently humorous (“nobody wants my stickers”) in short she was lovely, and then she said what for me personally were the 6 most profound words of this entire experience “Which arm did you choose today?”

And there it was…My choice in this whole global pandemic.[8]

I got to choose which arm I had the vaccination in.

I found myself imagining a group of psychologists in a zoom meeting carefully phrasing this sentence to ensure that people felt they had a choice, some degree of control. Was the effect of those words debated?  Or was it Dr. Kates depth of experience, highly developed interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence that came to the fore?

“Which arm did you choose today?”

Not only was I ‘all in’, I wore my sticker for the rest of the day.


[1] Holistic preparation, safety behaviours or adaptive coping strategies?

[2] Using distraction for coping with emotions and PTSD

[3] Psychological transference

[4] ‘I’m not on my own in this’ – Common humanity.  Dr Kristen Neff

Embracing Our Common Humanity With Self-Compassion


[5] Use of humour increases skills of Resilience

[6] Seeing ourselves reflected

[7] Psychological purpose and fulfilment

The Psychology of Purpose


[8] The importance of choice

The Power of Choice


Read more about Janette Kirk-Willis and her other articles HERE


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